The Child Thief: A Novel
Review by Harriet Klausner
Eos Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780061671333
Date: 01 September 2009 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
He doesn't use violence to steal them--but wit, his golden tongue persuades them there is an island where adults are banned and children are free to do what they want. He gets the girl whose father tries to rape her to come with him; she looks at the elf with pretty pointy ears, golden eyes and an impish smile and follows him to Avalon. The island is surrounded by a mist that hides it from all even from the sky, though it is off the coast of Manhattan. It is a place filled with mythological creatures like pixies and elves.
Peter does not tell the children he recruits that there are evil beasts there called Flesh-eaters, men who have evil in their hearts become these creatures. They have scales and elongated claws, and distorted features make them look even more beastly. They are led by the Captain who built a fort for food production and to conceal the crew until they go into battle. This stalemate has lasted for centuries.
Each death causes Avalon to lose a piece of its magic. What little magic remains is because of the Lady who uses her power to create the mist and for a long time protected the subjects too. Peter is devoted to her and forms a group of children, the Devils, to protect the Lady. They fight the Flesh-eaters and Peter constantly returns to the real world to find more lost children; runaways like Nick who felt the streets were safer than his home. He comes through the mist to Avalon, but with a differing perspective of the people and the children, as one of the Devils is a bully. He wants to leave and asks Peter to let him go back but he refuses. No one leaves as the Devils and their allies are fighting the Flesh-eaters with results no one could have imagined. Only when their foes are defeated will Peter take Nick through the mist.
This is not the Peter Pan of the popular TV movie or that of Disney, but closer though much darker than J.M. Barrie's original novel from a century ago. He is a charmer off island as he must be in order to catch the children and bring them willingly into Avalon to save Avalon and the Lady. The children adore him but he also expects total obeisance from them. In over a thousand years on Avalon he has seen everything especially death so grieves no one he has sent to die. He loved the Avalon of old as depicted in flashbacks, but that was before the humans began to destroy the place.
The Flesh-eaters are a product of their evil lives when the Captain and his minion violated the earth. There are few nice people in the story as everyone has a different viewpoint as to saving or destroying the island; expendables are accepted on both sides of the conflict. The Captain knows if he kills the Lady, he wins the war; while Peter has no comparable target as killing the Captain will mean someone else will be promoted to Captain.
Nick is the hero as his desire to just leave stirs up the Devils; yet he fights alongside them risking his life to help then win. Peter knows instinctively just who Nick really is and why he is here now. His actions prove he has not given into the performances that are thrown at him as he knows the children who are here are being used by Peter and some will die. The biggest stunner comes when Peter learns two horrible truths. Overly dark with blood, profanity, and violence, this trip to Never-Neverland turns the classic darling fairy tale upside down as war is hell.